21 December 2010
I watched that Graham Norton talk programme last night. It's been on in the background before, but as I was cooped up in bed with a horrendous cold I had little choice but to take actual notice this time.
And I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed it.
Cher and Dawn French were the guests, and it was notable how the conversation seemed totally unplanned or unstructured; Norton went from one to the other, finding links from their lives to address to the other lady on the sofa and making them feel entirely relaxed.
I switched off when he introduced The Script - even I have limits - but it was tremendous.
I've always been a bit 'meh' about Norton. It's well documented that he got a regular television gig sort of by accident; he was the camp unknown who was roped in by the unwatched (and, in Huddersfield at the time, unwatchable) Channel 5 in its mid-90s infancy to cover for Jack Docherty on his semi-awful late night talk show. And he ended up being miles better at it, to the extent of winning an award when it wasn't even his job.
Talk shows are pretty much what he has done ever since, albeit some complicated and extreme innovations of the genre. I didn't care as much for the type when seeing an mpeg of a man's head disappearing up a donkey's arse was as vital to the show as asking Joan Collins about her bra collection, but this new incarnation on the BBC seems to have him in exactly the right place.
He can ask serious or frivolous questions without the guest feeling put out by either, and it has to be said that as a gay man, he can ask saucy questions of female guests that a straight man could not. He got so much information from the newly-single Dawn French about her dating habits last night while also, without any great effort, getting Cher to reveal the colour of her knickers. It's hardly thought-provoking stuff but it was all in context for a revealing, entertaining and not too deep but also not too dumb knockabout bit of telly. And at times it was screamingly funny.
There was much gnashing of teeth from the anti-BBC rags about Norton's contribution to the corporation after signing on a megaquids deal and then seemingly doing very little for some time. But if this is the culmination of that search for the correct vehicle, much kudos to those who were involved. Far better this than Jonathan Ross's embarrassing sycophancy and ill-research, or the method of "come on, get the plug in and piss off" brand that Michael Parkinson, the nasty old get, troubled himself with in his dying years while having the nerve to criticise others.